in the paris métro


The dismal morning started today with cold rain as I left home, late for work. I detest rushing to catch the train/metro/bus where commuters are packed to within an inch of their breathing space. But I cheered up when I succeeded in hopping on the metro just before the doors closed. I considered this a good omen, which was followed by another when I got a seat on the train. Two for two. Then on the final leg of my journey, a short bus ride from the train station to the office, I arrived at the gate just as a bus was pulling in. I slid into an aisle seat near the exit and breathed a sigh of satisfaction at the wonderful day about to start.

Then suddenly I heard sobbing beside me. The girl next to me was slumped against the window and crying her heart out. Her flow of tears dripped down the glass like the steady rain outside. She had her face turned away from me and I had no intention of intruding on her grief. Had her dog died? Or a loved one? Had her lover dumped her? What should I do? While I mulled over these questions, she wept on as if her heart were shattering into a million pieces. I was miserable for this stranger, sitting so close to her and yet unable to offer any comfort or sympathy.

So I did the next best cowardly thing. I waited to get to my stop, and just before I hopped from my seat and out the door, I pressed a package of tissues into her hand and disappeared.

Could it have been a broken heart? How I wish I could tell her, “This too, shall pass.”

Posted on The Paris Blog yesterday:

The two extremes of Parisian style for women of a certain age were displayed across the aisle from each other the subway this morning.


Place Charles de Gaulle Etoile. Mondays– these are tough on everybody, but this morning it’s especially so for the train driver operating métro line 1. His driving (yes, it was a he) was anything but tranquil, like those driverless trains. Today’s voyage was a series of high speed take-offs and violent squeaking lurching stops. Entering this station, he slammed the brakes so hard it flung a well-dressed young woman sitting on a side banquette from her seat. A mix of shock, fear, surprise, anger, disgust, and wide-eyed embarrassment shot over her face as she flew past the central holding rail which she deftly grabbed on with one hand to avoid hitting the floor while the other clutched her handbag and her skirt. By the time the train came to a full stop, she had recovered both wits and vertical position as she went to sit back down, with legs folded and knees together.

Such is the poise of a Parisienne.

Today is my 26th wedding anniversary and I haven’t got a clue for a gift for my beloved. Of course it must be something special as it only occurs once a year. Last year was extraordinary – a trek through SE Asia. What can possibly be more memorable once you’ve visited the great stone monument of Bersurat Terengganu, Penang’s undaunted Fort Cornwallis, lively and historical Malacca, and duty-free paradise Langwaki?

Google had this to say about 26th wedding anniversaries:

  • The 26th Wedding Anniversary does not have any traditional materials or Symbols associated with it.
  • This Wedding Anniversary does not have any Flowers associated with it.
  • This Anniversary does not have any Gemstones associated with it.

Big help.

Restless from staring out the window at nothingness – for a 30-minute métro commute that’s a lot of emptiness to take in – I turned to read the newspaper over my fellow commuter’s shoulder when I spotted an ad for a play called “Mars et Vénus – La guerre entre les sexes” (tr. “Mars and Venus – the war between the sexes) playing at the Théatre Le Triomphe on rue Mouffetard, just up the cobblestone street from where we live.

The proverbial light finally flicked on. Why bother looking over mountains and seas when the answer is just around the block?

So what if the title piece is a bit cynical for a wedding anniversary event?

Next year, I’ll get him a medal of valor for putting up with me all these tiring decades.

Place Monge. Tuesday morning back to work after a long weekend. Dashed down the métro stairs in good spirits and spotted a poor schmuck in the glass cubicle wearing an RATP shirt and a hang dog look. He must have the most ungrateful job in the world. This forlorn metro station in the 5th arrondissement sees tourists and students and old people but hardly anybody ever gives the guy a glance unless they’re lost or pissed off or both. So I slowed down at the turnstile and flashed him a winning smile and called out “Bonjour!” Just then I tripped and stumbled — then looked up to see him grinning from ear to ear.

And probably thinking I was flirting with him…

Saw a girl wearing a belted toga in the métro today. The belt was significant because without it she could trip over the hem with her gladiator sandals and stumble and ruin the whole look.

Yesterday, in the sub-freezing cold morning, I ventured out to catch a train to Paris to meet with a client.

Despite the early hour, the platform was packed with commuters bundled in their winter gear and hunkering low as they waited for transportation into town. And waited. Delay upon delay due to technical problems from the cold.

Finally, a train pulled in, already quite packed. There was a weary collective sigh from those waiting on the outside. When the doors opened, a few passengers straggled off and the crowds started climbing on. I did not hesitate to elbow my way inside. There was only standing room in the aisles and in the central boarding space.

I was in the middle of the stand-only area as more and more people packed themselves in rapidly until all the available space was filled up. Just when you think it wasn’t possible to admit one more person, several more bodies piled on. The door finally closed. There was not room to breathe, let alone to move a limb — so tightly were we packed in.

Just as the train pulled out of the station and my wits returned, I felt something strange and hard rub against my right fist that was clutching my handbag (my left hand was gripping the center pole for balance.) Then I realized what it was — and alarm shot through me.

I looked up my right shoulder to see a young man who blushed to his hair roots when I met his gaze.

Indeed, my fist was lodged right against his groin. I could not move my hand away because of my large handbag, and he could not shift his position due to a suitcase at his feet and carry-on bag at his side.

We both made a brave attempt to rectify the configuration but to no avail. Each time I moved my hand, I solicited an unwilling growing reaction from him. I muttered an awkward “sorry” (it came out in English – as it always does when I lose my faculties.) He said, “No, I’m sorry.”

We stood with bated breath as the train lurched into the next station. Nobody got off, but more tried to get on. Those initially trapped were still trapped. A few determined souls shoved themselves in nevertheless which exacerbated the situation.

I tried to make an abstraction of the bump against my fist, as he was valiantly wishing to be elsewhere. As the train moved, a surge of hysteria rose in my throat at the comedy of the situation. I tried to control the giggle so as not to break outright into laughter. But the moment we looked at each other, we both started laughing. People stared.

“Where are you stopping?” he asked.

“Port Royal. Important meeting.”

Our attempt at small talk eased the tension. We inspected each other in the confined space and decided that we were both quite respectable despite the perverseness of the scenario.

“Today isn’t a great day to fly,” I said. (The train was bound for Roissy airport after Paris.)

“Going to Dusseldorf for the weekend.”

“Really? Do you speak German?”

“Um… no.”

“Oh.” (We spoke in English. It didn’t occur to us that it was odd.)

Just then, an announcement over the PA informed passengers that due to mechanical difficulties, the train would stop indefinitely at the next station. Everyone would have to get off. There were groans of dismay but my neighbor and I were relieved.

As the doors opened and people alighted, I could finally dislodge my numb arm and extricate myself from the train. He picked up his luggage and followed suit.

Outside in the cold air, we breathed a sigh of relief. Amidst pushing and shoving strangers on the platform, we felt like comrades in arms bidding each other farewell.

“Have a good weekend,” I waved to him.

“Good luck with your meeting,” he said, and disappeared in the opposite direction.